Lydia Ko ready to start her rookie LPGA season

MATT RICHENS
Last updated 05:00 23/01/2014
Lydia Ko
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STEPPING UP: Lydia Ko is making her first appearance of 2014 in the Bahamas tomorrow morning.

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The golfing world is about to get its first look at how Lydia Ko is going after her split from long-time coach Guy Wilson when she plays in the LPGA Tour season-opener.

The 16-year-old makes her first start on the tour as a fully-fledged member in the Bahamas Classic tonight - her last tournament before the defence of her New Zealand Women's Open title, next week in Christchurch.

Since dumping Wilson just before Christmas, Ko has been working with David Leadbetter and this is her first tournament under the United States-based Englishman's watch.

Wilson helped Ko leap to No 4 in the world and was part of her golfing life for 11 years.

How she copes tonight and the next four days in the Caribbean will give an insight into how well she's managing the change.

A Ko tweet sent this week about a session with Leadbetter, the self-proclaimed "world's leading golf instructor", seems to point to no major overhaul to her swing with "keep it simple" being the key message.

The proof will be in how she plays in the US$1.3 million (NZ$1.56m) season-opener.

She's one of 11 LPGA Tour rookies (first full year players) in the field of 108 and is one of the title favourites.

Only world Nos 2 and 3, Norway's Suzann Pettersen and American Stacy Lewis, are ranked higher than Ko in a field missing five of the world's top 10.

Ko will play the opening two rounds of the four-round tournament alongside Lewis, and Spain's Beatriz Recari.

She said she was buzzing about taking on the world's best week-in week-out.

"It is going to be a really exciting to play my first full year on the LPGA Tour," she said.

"I still have a lot to learn about the life of a professional so I am looking forward to being around the world's best players every week and learning from what they do on and off the golf course."

As far as rookies go, Ko won't have everything her own way; she's not even the only teen sensation in the field.

American 19-year-old Jaye Marie Green will steal a few watts of Ko's limelight after winning the 2013 LPGA Tour final qualifying tournament by a massive 10 shots in December, shooting a record 29-under at the five-round event.

Ko beat Green in the 3 and 1 in the 36-hole final to win the prestigious US Amateur Championship in 2012.

Another point of interest this week will be to see if Ko can handle limited build-up and preparation.

With such a limited schedule when she played as an amateur, Ko was able to spend time familiarising herself with the courses she was going to play, often spending weeks at a course before a tournament.

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She will have less time this year with a fuller calendar, but the New Zealand Open champion has already spent time this month playing a couple of wind-swept rounds at Clearwater in preparation for the 54-hole tournament that begins next Friday.

Ko's first round starts tomorrow at 2.10am. Sky Sport's coverage of the event begins at 5.30am.

- Fairfax Media

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